Lifetime Review: 'The Wrong Valentine'
Mariah Robinson attracts a dangerous admirer in this flawed but enjoyable Valentine's Day drama.
Emily Marshall (Mariah Robinson) has always been a shy girl, and her father's death has only made her retreat further into schoolwork and history club. With Valentine's Day approaching, the last thing Emily expected was to find a boyfriend. But after meeting new student David Olson (Evan Adams), Emily can't help but be drawn to him. While he may be a little on the overly affectionate side, Emily can relate to his feelings of being an outsider and quickly warms up to her first taste of romance.
But just as quickly, Emily takes notice of a dark side emerging from David. He suddenly goes from attentive to possessive, randomly showing up at her house and getting aggressive with Emily. When David finally goes too far, Emily tries to cut ties with him and her mother Ashley (Arie Thompson) orders him to leave her alone. But it quickly becomes clear David has no intention of staying away, and it's up to Emily to figure out the truth behind his obsession before her first Valentine leaves her with more than just a broken heart.
If that synopsis sounds a little familiar to those who have followed my reviews of Lifetime's Wrong series, that's because it is. Not only is "My Perfect Boyfriend's a Psycho" a frequent recurring genre for the channel, but The Wrong Valentine shares quite a bit in common with another Wrong movie: The Wrong Cheerleader. Both focus on a shy, bookish teenage girl who starts a relationship with a charming new student, only to later learn he has a dark side to him. But whereas The Wrong Cheerleader could be seen as a teenage cautionary tale about relationship abuse, The Wrong Valentine goes a different route as it becomes clear there's more to David's fixation than meets the eye. Thanks to my knowledge of Lifetime and some very unsubtle foreshadowing, I was able to deduce David's secret well in advance. But despite issues regarding writing and acting that crop up, The Wrong Valentine makes for an enjoyable take on a well-worn formula thanks to what it gets right.
Right from the start, The Wrong Valentine's dialogue didn't inspire confidence for me with how the opening scene swiftly breaks the "Show, Don't Tell" rule of writing. To establish Emily as a sweet but unpopular student, the writers simply have her history club teacher Janet Connelly (Vivica A. Fox's character) mention how sweet but unpopular she is. While talking to Emily herself. Thankfully, Mariah Robinson makes up for this clunky character introduction by selling Emily's shyness through her body language and diction. But while Robinson gives an overall likable performance similar to the one she gave in Cheer Camp Killer, Emily's character (among others) takes a few hits in the second act.
It's not long into this act that David lets his true colors come out--and not just to Emily, but to her mother Ashley and her friend Michelle too. Emily suddenly goes from fully cognizant of David's inexcusable behavior to willing to go all "Forgive and Forget" because he gives her a history book with a creepy "love note" to go with it. Even taking into consideration Emily's socially awkwardness and lack of romantic experience, this shift in attitude is abrupt and inexplicable--as well as redundant given how soon afterward, SPOILER ALERT Emily finds out about David hooking up with Michelle and definitively dumps him. Spoilers Over Ashley and Michelle go through a similar period, downplaying David's bouts of lunacy when recapping them to others. They all ultimately get to a point of more boldly dealing with David, but it's still odd how much time it takes for them to get to that point.
Though of the main characters, David--as played by Evan Adams in his debut performance to both Lifetime and film in general--is the most divisive of the bunch for me. While I stated in my Wrong Cheerleader review that Rob Brous came off too strong in his introduction, he's subtle as can be compared to David Olson when he first meets Emily. In addition to all the badly written dialogue David is given, Adams' delivery starts out stiff before segueing into a tightrope walk between appealing histrionics and overacting. Thankfully, when it comes to the latter, Adams finds a way to keep himself reined in most of the time. He makes David effectively creepy when he needs to be and follows Robinson's lead in how he plays his character's adorkable pre-reveal façade, powering through his bizarre lines as best he can. It's enough to make you believe that Emily and the equally shy Michelle would be so quickly taken by David, despite his early red flag behavior.
The Wrong Valentine truly shines in its dramatic conclusion, even if parts of it are left half-developed. SPOILER ALERT As said before, the heavy-handed foreshadowing clued me into the fact that David would turn out to be the son of Emily's late father. But what this twist lacks in surprise, it makes up for in emotion. Barring some awkward bits, Adams throws himself into David's embittered rant against the Marshalls and his late mother. Despite David's insanity, you'll feel for the kid as he recounts the worst of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his unstable mother--especially as it makes earlier scenes feel sadder in hindsight. Too bad this emotional powder keg of a climax is followed up by a generic Catapult Nightmare wrap-up. A flash-forward showing Emily and Ashley visiting David in prison a-la Twisted Twin would've been a much better finale, as it would've provided closure to all the old wounds ripped open by David's revelations. Spoilers Over
The supporting cast is something of a 50/50 split. Arie Thompson makes the biggest impact of the bunch, bringing ferocity to Ashley once she stops tolerating David's creepiness and giving the best performance of the movie for the climax. Meredith Thomas is equally fierce as Emily's guidance counselor Mrs. Stein, standing out as the only character to immediately see David for what he is and never make any out-of-character turnabouts. On the lower half of the split, we have Jacqi Vene as Michelle (half of Vene's deliveries feel wooden, though she otherwise does well at playing a realistically awkward teenage girl) and Vivica A. Fox. Fox gives a serviceable performance, but Janet Connelly is such a passive and underseen character that she's given little room to make an impression. SPOILER ALERT In Wrong Fiancé and Wrong Mr. Right, Fox's character showed up in the final act to be a surprise hero. Here, she just randomly pops in so she can do her trademark title drop. Spoilers Over
(And on an aesthetical note: what is the deal with the interior of the Marshall home? I know it's established that they're well-off, but it doesn't mean their décor has to be so aggressively ostentatious)
The Wrong Valentine mercifully doesn't fall to the lows set by the lesser films in this latest plethora of Wrong films. The action moves at a steady enough pace to keep you interested and the cast brings natural charm to their characters that shines through their lesser moments. But in addition to those moments, you'll have to contend with a lot of wonky writing and some uneven acting. But when it finds its groove, The Wrong Valentine makes for a moderately entertaining movie helmed by a pair of imperfect-but-promising young stars. Mariah Robinson seems on her way to becoming a recurring Lifetime star, and despite having some kinks to iron out, I'd say Evan Adams has the good looks and acting potential to make a fine addition to the Lifetime scene.
Score: 6 out of 10 "historic" coffee dates.